Lunch at Eleven Madison Park, perhaps the most staid of the Danny Meyer Empire, elegantly and quietly captured this exuberance. All of our dishes celebrated the season, and even better, matched each other.
It was the most color-coordinated meal I've ever had. I can't pull off wearing grapefruit-toned pinks, pale yellows, or peachy oranges, but I'm happy to eat foods in those colors. Especially while in a spacious room flooded with light from adjacent Madison Square Park and enlivened by fanciful bands of Deco ornament along the walls and ceiling.
While on the fussy side, lunch this time around was better than the dinner I had there a few years ago. That doesn't mean, however, that extreme care and attention to visual detail trump flavor. (I wonder if all those suited-up Credit Suisse bankers they must serve find some of the food to look too, um, delicate.)
Everything we ordered was so damn pleasing to the eye. Not in that Portale stacked up, Delirious New York way, but airy and delicate and sprightly. Spring greens perked up the creamy, soft colors, like with the refreshing cold white asparagus soup with a ball of peekytoe crab. It was a shame to bust up the grilled scallops with citrus and potato pieces, which looked like they were having a springtime lawn party, complete with cute little party hats. But it all tasted too perfectly seasonal and the preparation was on-the-nose.
Not all the food is for pussies. You can also have meat with a side of meat. I didn't know the beef tenderloin with Bordelaise sauce came with a small lump of sweet, rich osso buco ragu served over a lump of saffron-laced risotto alla milanese. Had the tenderloin not been so supple and amazing, it would've been an eating indurance test. I'm so craving that top-crusted, velvety disc as I write this. Saffron made another appearance in the light sauce surrounding the loup de mer fillet, which was finished off with a nice zing of onions, peppers and citrus.
We took our waiter's advice and stuck with the fennel ice cream served with the panna cotta instead of substituting it with vanilla. (I only like fennel when it's cooked down so that the anise taste disappears, or occasionally I'll enjoy it sliced very thin in salads.) I'd never think ice cream would be a good use of this tricky vegetable. But somehow it evoked a blooming vegetable garden in a good way, not in the sucky licorice way. Covered with OCD-style peeled blood red oranges, the panna cotta was close to the platonic ideal (for me, anyway), and the sauce streaks kept it in the visual theme of our meal.
When I saw the pistachio macaron pass by after we finished, I knew skipping it was a mistake. So what if the green fell somewhere else on the color wheel.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York 10010